Telling Stories: An Interview With George Gerbner

How Television Skews Our View of Society, and Ourselves

George Gerbner: A few centuries ago, the Scottish patriot Andrew Fletcher wrote, “If I were permitted to write all the ballads I need not care who makes the laws of the nation.” He was right. Ballads, or more broadly stories, socialize us into our roles as men and women, and the great transformation of the past fifty years has been away from stories told by parents, schools, communities, churches, nations, and others with something to tell and toward stories produced by marketing conglomerates and told by people who have a great deal to sell. That transformation has profoundly changed the way our children are socialized, and has made a significant contribution to the way our societies are governed. It has changed the way we live.

Today, children are born into homes in which the television is on an average of seven hours and forty-one minutes per day. That’s a lot of time, but that’s not the main problem. The main problem is that the stories we see and hear are of a very few types. The proliferation of channels with cable and now digital broadcasting is deceptive, because the content of these channels is very much the same. By content, I don’t mean style or even plot, what I consider to be the building-blacks of story telling: casting and fate. By that I mean, for example, who are the characters that animate the world of prime time drama–which is where most of the action and most of the viewing time is–what is their demography, and what is the fate of the different groups: men and women, young and old, rich and poor, etc. Our studies show that such “casting and fate” follows stable patterns over time.

Derrick Jensen: I’m not sure what that means.

GG: Men outnumber women in prime time television two to one, young people are underrepresented, older people are one-fifth of their actual proportion of the population, and poor people are virtually absent.

DJ: I still don’t understand why this is important.

GG: Socialization–telling of all the stories–is what makes us develop into who we are; stories are how you learn your social roles. If you are overrepresented you see many opportunities, many more choices. The opposite is true if you are underrepresented. For example, women between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five are generally cast only for romantic roles. What message does that impart to young girls growing up? We have a contract with the Screen Actors Guild to study why so many of its female members stop getting calls when they’re thirty-five, and only start getting them again when they’re old enough to play grandmothers. What does that invisibility teach women about their roles in society? What does it teach us about romantic relationships? If you’re a man, you play romantic roles until you totter into your grave. You see men playing romantic leads at fifty, sixty, even seventy. And women? How does that affect a man’s or a woman’s opportunities for love, for sex, for human companionship?

The over- or underrepresentation of demographic groups in these stories leads to a skewing of the types of stories that can be told. Because most scripts are written by and for men, they project a world in which men rule, and in which men play most of the roles. Furthermore, scripts must be constructed to satisfy the demands of a market–which is not, by the way, the same as the demands of an audience. Because a film or television producer cannot really hope to make money solely in the United States, most producers target their stories for a world market. If you are producing for the world market, you have to ask yourself what parts of stories need no translation, what parts are essentially image-driven, what parts fit any culture. Sex is one answer. Violence is another. Violence as a primary ingredient demands male roles. So the demands of an international market reinforce the predilections of male writers.

In life as in fiction, the options available to members of different groups, and the relationship between members of those groups and power go hand in hand. This, once again, is “casting and fate.” Casting is the demography of the symbolic world, and has to do with the ratios of success to failure and victimizer to victimized that each of the demographic groups is likely to play. If you look at this program by program, you might see a great diversity of plots, but if you look at who is consistently doing what to whom, you see a great stability and a great homogeneity. It’s a strictly regulated and relatively inflexible system.

DJ: You mentioned before that this pattern has been stable over time.

GG: It’s been stable because the power structure of the society which produces it has been stable. Year by year you might see a five to fifteen percent change, but it’s not a steady trend in any one direction.

DJ: How do you know all this?

GG: Every year we–

DJ: –Who is we?

GG: The Cultural Indicators Project is a nonprofit formed to study not only violence on television but the relationship between the stories we are told and society at large. Every year we take a sample of prime time dramatic programming and add it to our database, which by now contains some forty-five thousand characters. We’ve been doing this for thirty years, during which time the patterns have been stable.

DJ: I’m still fuzzy on how “casting and fate” affects the real world.

GG: How does schooling affect the real world? By socializing us. Casting and fate works the same way, except that these lessons start in infancy and continue througout life. Television has become the universal curriculum of our people.

Television and movies project the power structure of our society, and by projecting it, perpetuate it, make it seem normal, make it seem the only thing to do, to talk about, to think about. Once viewers have become habituated to a certain type of story, they experience great consternation if you try to change it. Let’s say you try to countercast, or change the typical casting in a typical story. A woman, now, is going to wield power. She is going to use violence. Suddenly, you can’t tell any story other than the one that describes why this is so. The story has to revolve around why a woman is doing things that seem scandalous for her, yet seem normal for a man. By telling a story different from what the audience has come to expect, you disturb public sensibilities.

DJ: So in a sense television is representative of the culture.

GG: It is representative of the power structure. Not the culture. This means those in power are overrepresented, they’re more likely to be successful, and they’re more likely to inflict violence than to suffer it.

DJ: Okay. So it’s not really even representative of the power structure, but instead the fantasies of those in power.

GG: Exactly. It is an agency of the power structure by which those in power represent their fantasies. By doing so they contribute to those fantasies becoming real, becoming a part of the consciousness of each of us.

In culture, it is the supply that determines the demand, never the other way around. Just imagine a group of writers talking about a story, and someone says, “Why is it that most of the time the victim is a woman? Why don’t we equalize the scales?” The answer would be, “A violent woman is distasteful.”

DJ: But it’s not distasteful for us to see Bruce Willis blow away hundreds of people.

GG: To me it is distasteful, but to all of us it is expected.

DJ: What does it do to us to take this volume of violence into our bodies? Since we did not evolve perceiving unreal images, a hundred years ago if you saw someone get slashed with a knife you were probably quite traumatized, because you were witnessing someone’s actual injury.

GG: Most of the violence we see depicted is pretty sanitized. It has none of the tragedy, none of the gore. Certainly not on television. Much of it is what I call “happy violence,” that is, cool, painless, and spectacular. It’s designed not to upset you or gross you out, but to entertain you and deliver you to the next commercial in a mood to buy. I think people are still shocked when they see violence in real life. We have anecdotal evidence of children, when they see somebody actually getting hurt, saying, “That’s not like in the movies.”

I don’t believe that either frequency or explicitness of violence are the primary issues. Violence is a demonstration of power, and the real issue, once again, is who is doing what to whom. If time and again you hear and see stories in which people like you–white males in the prime of life–are more likely to prevail in a conflict situation, you become more aggressive, and if you are in the same culture, and a member of a group or a gender that is more likely to be victimized, you grow up more insecure, more dependent, more afraid of getting into a conflict, because you feel your calculus of risk is higher.

That is the way we train minorities. People aren’t born a minority, they are are trained to act like a minority through that kind of cultural conditioning. And women, who are a numerical majority of humankind, still are trained to act like a minority. The sense of potential victimization and vulnerability is the key.

Of course not all people react the same way to anything. Women of color may react differently to their sense of potential victimization than do men of color. We have to ask, again, how have they been socialized to behave?

Most of the time people talk about violence as if it were a simple act. Well, it is a complicated scenario, a social relationship between violators and victims. The question we need to always ask ourselves is, who takes what role? What power relationship is being demonstrated?

For every ten violent characters there are about ten victims. For every ten women who are written into scripts to express the kind of power that white males express with relative impunity there are nineteen women who become victimized. For every ten women of color who are written into scripts to act in an aggressive way, there are twenty-two women of color who are victimized. Your chances of victimization double if you are not a member of the group for whom it is accepted to be a victimizer, who are more likely to be aggressors and less likely to be victims.

DJ: But doesn’t that just represent reality? Although in domestic violence women sometimes beat men, it is overwhelmingly the other way.

GG: Children are not born into these roles. Stories teach them how to act, whether they are to act the victim or victimizer, how and toward whom they may or may not express their aggression. Both men and women learn that women are legitimate victims, receptacles for aggression. White males are not acceptable victims. And now having shaped reality, these stories then of course reflect it back.

You must remember that a mirror is not a passive instrument. It is a kind of exchange in which you see–your tie perhaps, or your makeup–and then you either change what you see, or you don’t change what you see. The same is true with television. You look into it and see yourself, and then you either conform, or you don’t conform. But it takes a conscious decision to not conform, and even then your decision to rebel is based on what you have seen: even rebellion depends on having something to rebel against, and that is provided in the culture, in the stories.

DJ: Don’t these stories then not only determine who does what to whom but also what we see as acceptable modes of conflict resolution? Instead of two people hashing out their differences . . .

GG: . . . which is what makes the best drama . . .

DJ: . . . we see them fight it out.

GG: But to create that sort of lively and realistic dramatic intercourse takes talent. Most violence is a poverty of imagination. It’s an easy way out on the part of writers and producers who want to create the cheapest, most easily exported product.

Violence is not even what audiences want. It depresses ratings in every country. But because violence travels well, it is still profitable.

The relationship between audiences and violence is complicated, because even though it’s not what audiences want, they have become accustomed to it. And over time this violence must grow more extreme. In order to make a mark in a realm that is already saturated with violence, you must outdo the others. This is especially true in movies. Movies, you see, have become a minority medium. There used to be about 20 million people go to movies per year. Now, many times that number go to television each night. This means producers of mainstream movies (I’m talking about Hollywood, not unusual independent producers) have to ask themselves what it is that viewers, who’ve grown up with television for several generations, don’t get enough of. These producers must not only appeal to expectations emplaced by television, but they have to go beyond anything television can offer.

Television is still governed by codes. Every station has its own code, and these codes have an aspect of sensibility. Television stations can’t go into homes with the kind of stuff you see in the movies, not so much out of a sense of morality as out of the knowledge that advertisers don’t want to be associated with violence and brutality. The message that advertisers send to stations is straightforward: “Deliver the audience to my commercial in a mood to buy. Whatever else you do, that is your job.” So in a strange way, advertisers act as a moderating force on the worst of the violence.

DJ: The moderation of advertisers is at best a double-edged sword, though, that also pretty much guarantees you’re not going to get any television programs attacking the corporate structure.

GG: Absolutely. TV producers don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them. And it’s ironic because television is broadcast in the public domain. The airwaves are public, not private property. But in the United States, Americans are never told the airwaves belong to them. They think the airwaves belong to the networks.

DJ: CBS isn’t going to tell them any differently.

GG: Of course not. Ask yourself, why is there is no political life in the United States? It’s because there’s no choice of ideologies on television. You have a single party, consisting of two factions: the Ins and the Outs. When the Outs get in, they do the same thing as the Ins were just doing. You cannot have a democratic government if there are no strong ideological differentiations, which means that you’ve got to have a capitalist party, a socialist party, greens, indigenous groups, anarchists, a communist party, a fascist party, and so on, each of which should command significant airtime. In all other “democratic” countries that is what the media laws try to do.

Ironically, it is the First Amendment in the United States Constitution–which states that government shall make no laws abridging freedom of the press–that forbids government from diversifying what goes on the air. The first amendment was designed to assure that the expression of diverse opinions was not prohibited by the government. But the framers of the constitution didn’t anticipate precisely what has happened, which is that this country is run by a private, nondemocratic government of, by, and for corporations. This has led to a situation in which a handful of conglomerate directors, maybe five or six men, and they are almost always men, determine the stories that socialize our children.

DJ: And the underlying motive of these directors is to accumulate ever-more power and money.

GG: Power and money. They go hand in hand. They are indivisible.

DJ: But it’s not any sort of conspiracy. A friend of mine once told me, “You don’t have to have a conspiracy when everyone thinks the same.”

GG: A conspiracy is a plot that fails. Conspiracies never succeed. They may make little ripples in the power structure, but that’s all. What we’re talking about here is the system. And people act similarly, not even necessarily because they want to, but because there are rules, and there are penalties, and because if you don’t play by the rules someone else will.

DJ: And in addition because you’ve been socialized–by the stories–to believe your actions are acceptable.

GG: Yes.

DJ: Let’s go back to violence for a moment. Do media depictions of violence lead to more violence in real life?

GG: Not particularly. If you compare heavy and light viewers, and if you control for all other factors, as we do in our research, you find that people who watch more television are not particularly more aggressive. But they are much more insecure. The overall message of television is one of victimization and insecurity. People know that violence in everyday life is stupid, it doesn’t work, and you get hurt. So most people avoid it. But there is no way to avoid fear.

The major effects of exposure to TV violence are insecurity, dependence, emotional vulnerability, and in fact a lack of aggressiveness. It would be much better if people were more aggressive. Perhaps then they would begin to stand up for their rights. People are taught to be too submissive, they are taught to be insecure. They are taught to be afraid.

DJ: But I’ve heard a hundred times that TV violence leads to violence.

GG: From what source did you hear this? The notion that exposure to violence incites violence is itself media-driven. Whenever I go on a talk show, the producers never let me talk about anything else. They ask, “Does violence incite violence? I say, “No,” and they say, “Thank you very much, and now a word from our sponsor.”

They never let me get to the next sentence, which is, “You do something much worse than incite violence. You cultivate a sense of insecurity and dependence that makes people submit to indignities no human being should ever have to submit to.”

DJ: I take it from all this that you are not in any way against all depictions of violence.

GG: Oh, no. Violence is a legitimate dramatic and artistic feature, even necessary to show its tragic effects and consequences. But these consequences are hardly ever seen: sponsors don’t like it.

Also, violence is necessary, and has historically been necessary, when people have had to strike out against unbearable odds. When people are given no other avenue of opposition or revolt, they have only violence, and they must use it.

DJ: Which is another reason why real depictions of necessary violence can’t be allowed on the media: with corporations having a lock on everything, they have to keep a lid on the unhappiness they cause.

GG: The notion that media violence begets violence is silly on many counts. Those in power are not foolish enough to incite violence against their own rule. They know very well that television cultivates passivity, a sense of withdrawal and insecurity. That’s exactly what the corporate structure needs and wants.

DJ: Let’s go back to what you said a moment ago, about violence being shown, but not the consequences of violence. That should come as no surprise, because our entire culture is predicated on ignoring the consequences of our actions, whether they are environmental consequences, the consequences of smoking, or what have you.

GG: Exactly. This is all so tragic. We happen to have a grant–and I want to give them credit for supporting us the last couple of years–from the Robert Wood Johnson foundation for a special study of alcohol and tobacco in the media. We found that there are 2.1 alcohol drinking incidents per hour in prime time. TV is saturated with alcohol. In recent years Seagram and others have colonized the industry. Seagram bought MCA, and the rate of drinking incidents increased. So these companies are buying up studios to make sure they can control the stories. The consequences of alcohol use are of course rarely shown.

Tobacco use is thankfully down on television, with one tragic exception. Young women are smoking more than before, and the fact that we have a tobacco-caused lung cancer epidemic among young women is no coincidence. Young women seem to follow the model that television gives them, of asserting their independence, and rebelling, by smoking.

DJ: The notion of rebelling by smoking is once again a cooptation of very real feelings of powerlessness that people have, and a desire to rebel against the power structure.

GG: Exactly.

While smoking has gone down on television, it is rampant in movies. It’s difficult today to see a movie in which the star doesn’t light up in the first scene, and then for the whole rest of the movie he or she will use smoking as a dramatic device, for transitions, for relaxation.

This is criminal, and it’s tragic. In order to amass wealth those in power are leading people to use an addictive drug that is guaranteed to kill if used as directed. This is a drug that kills over a thousand people per day, more than all illegal drugs combined. There’s never been anything like it, and it is promoted, and legally advertised, and legally sold, and more to the point of this conversation, it is consistently embedded in the stories that socialize us.

DJ: Let’s go back to the relationship between media and the corporate state. You’ve written, “We are headed in the direction of an upsurge in neofascism in a very entertaining and a very amusing disguise.”

GG: If you consider fascism as essentially a corporate-run, highly repressive ideology which abolishes political choice and imposes a certain type of ethnic dominance and preference, all the earmarks no longer require brutal administration and a brutal takeover of culture. This has been accomplished in our case in a very entertaining and “democratic” way. Of course it is far from democratic.

In the last twenty years, the monopolization of our culture has proceeded in a way and at a rate that would have been unimaginable and unacceptable at a time when anti-trust was still alive. I don’t know what has happened to the Justice Department, but there is no more administration of anti-trust, and the Telecommunications Bill of 1996, which was passed without any public discussion, opens the floodgates to even further monopolization of our culture. All of our stories are told by a handful of conglomerates. If you count Sony, Time-Warner, Disney, and Rupert Murdoch, what else is there? You’ve got it all. What kind of a democracy is that?

DJ: It seems pretty clear to me that the reason the fascism can be of the friendly sort is that we go along.

GG: I’m not sure I understand the point you’re making.

DJ: Indonesia, Guatemala, Chile, the Black Panthers. Those who do oppose are eliminated.

GG: Of course. It’s ruthless. Absolutely brutal. We need only think about the Vietnam War. The most unspeakable neocolonial administration sent 45,000 American troops to die in a battlefield tens of thousands of miles away, defoliated Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, poured dioxin over the people, killed more than a million human beings, and bombed the region back, as they said, into the middle ages. Why is it not fascism when it is done a few thousand miles away? Does it have to be here? If you accept what they do elsewhere, they don’t need to do it here.

That is essentially what fascism–and the stories that teach us how to be social beings–has done: make people accept unspeakable brutality, make people accept genocide. Exporting genocide to another country is still genocide, and we have accepted it, and we have supported it. It continues to this day.

DJ: A lot of what we’ve been talking about is the monopolization of perception. Last year I spoke with Judith Herman, who is an expert on psychological trauma and the effects of captivity, and she pointed out that one of the central tools used by perpetrators to break the wills of their victims–and this is true whether we are talking about domestic violence or political terror–is to cut off all other social contacts, to monopolize the perception of the victim. It strikes me that much the same thing is going on socially. The reason this is important is that in order for people to remain in captivity, they must believe there are no alternatives. If you can open the victims out, they can think, “Why the hell am I putting up with this?”

GG: I don’t think it is sufficient to leave it at that. It is a monopolization not only of perception but conception. Perception has to do with the senses, but what we’re talking about here is the monopolization of one’s entire world view, which goes far beyond perception. The stories we tell about the world erect the world in which we live. And if you can monopolize the telling of stories, you’re going to monopolize perception, you’re going to monopolize conception, and you’re going to monopolize behavior, because our behavior is in light of what we conceive to be the world and what is accepted or what is useful or effective in a particular situation.

DJ: What is the role of the U.S. media in promoting state violence? I’m thinking of the way the Persian Gulf was handled.

GG: Public consciousness is militarized, by which I mean the public is brought to accept, and even call for, military solutions–which are forms of organized violence–to social and national or international problems.

I call the Persian Gulf War The Movie. Even the name is fraudulent. There was no war. A war is something where people shoot back. Nobody was shooting back. It was slaughter. Our planes were strafing columns of fleeing civilians.

But very seldom did you see images of any of this. If we would have seen what happened on the ground, a wave of revulsion would have swept over us.

In this context, it’s interesting to note that for most of the Vietnam War, we learned about body counts every day, but there were no pictures. The minute they started to show pictures of the war on the ground, those of us who opposed the war knew it was over. That was the end. Showing American casualties was a way of preparing the public to accept a lost war. Until the war is lost, you never show any casualties, except for the enemy.

DJ: So the media not only report but influence history. You’ve called this “instant history.”

GG: Instant history is a very interesting new phenomenon made possible by the ability to broadcast an event while it’s going on. Those who control the media have the capacity to select the shots, angles, scenes in such a way that the very transmission of an ongoing event helps determine its outcome. This has never before been possible. Even in Vietnam the pictures had to be flown back, which meant at least a six or eight hour delay. By the time you saw pictures of the battle, it may very well have been over. Now, as in the Gulf War, it is possible to broadcast an event while it is going on, and by selecting the images or the shots or the scenes, or editing it in a certain way, you will influence the outcome. All of the major heads of state involved in the Gulf War had the capacity to tune in to CNN and see what was happening on the battlefield. Or more precisely what they thought was happening. In fact what they witnessed were selected shots calculated to have certain results.

DJ: Calculated by whom?

GG: The army. Every photographer had to get permission, and they had to follow a guide who told them what they could shoot and how they could shoot it. After that the photos were submitted to army censorship.

DJ: That makes me think about Nestor Makhno. Do you know him? He was a Ukranian anarchist who first fought against the invading Germans in World War I, and then he fought against the Whites, then the Reds, then the Whites, and then again the Reds. He was so popular among the people that the Reds shot on the spot any of his troops they captured, out of fear his troops would infect their own with a love of freedom. Makhno, on the other hand, gave non-officer prisoners he captured the immediate choice of joining his troops or going home. Entire combat units of both Reds and Whites defected to his side. How this relates to the media is that he believed deeply in the freedom of the press, and insisted that enemy newspapers in the towns he captured not close down. The only things they could not do were to report his troop movements or, because of endemic anti-semitism in the Ukraine, attempt to instigate pogroms.

GG: That is interesting. I know that in several of the Scandinavian countries, the government subsidizes opposition newspapers, because it’s important to have a diversity of choices. In France, you have pretty much the same thing. There is a two percent tax on cigarette machines and a three percent tax on videotape that contributes to a fund subsidizing independent productions.

Of course here production and distribution are all monopolized. Ten or fifteen years ago there was a so-called divorcement by the Supreme Court that said that studios that control production cannot control distribution. But that’s been forgotten. This whole Reagan/deregulation era has left a long-lasting imprint on our cultural life. And under current political circumstances there is virtually no opposition to the monopolization of culture, in great measure because politicians are so dependent on the media that they cannot raise any of these issues. We have nothing to fall back on except our own citizen movements and organizations. It is pathetic to think that responsibility devolves to organizations like our little Cultural Environment Movement.

DJ: What is that?

GG: The Cultural Environment Movement is a coalition of some 150 groups in about fifty countries that is designed to work for gender equity and genuine diversity of ownership, employment, and representation in the media. We had a founding convention two years ago. Our goal is to democratize the media.

DJ: How do you see that happening?

GG: That’s a good question. I wish we had some kind of formula. It’s a people’s movement. We have no money. We have no funding. We have tried to raise some money by mailings and by applying for grants. We have tried to lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps, which is the only way a citizen can do something that has no corporate sponsorship and that in fact that addresses corporate control as a problem, not as an asset.

But if you believe in the notion of citizenship you have to believe you can organize to make a difference. Our motto is, “Don’t agonize. Organize.” That was an old union slogan in the 1930s. They showed it can be done, and we want to show that it can be done now.

The problem may not be so difficult as it seems. People are ready, and they’re searching for an answer. Through this conversation we’ve talked about the passivity of people, but underneath that passivity there is resentment, even rage. There is a sense of frustration. That has to be tapped, and channeled in a constructive way and in a democratic direction.

DJ: I work a lot with indigenous peoples, and they talk all the time about decolonizing their own minds. Perhaps one of the first steps in that process can be to redefine ourselves once again as citizens, and not as consumers.

GG: Absolutely. Decolonizing is an excellent expression not only for indigenous peoples but for all of us. We have to try to do that. People, once again, are ready, and they are creating their own movements.

When I introduce the Cultural Environment Movement, people often say, “I’ve been concerned about these issues, but I never knew there was anything I could do.” This statement–that people feel helpless about a major cultural issue–is about as powerful an indictment as anyone could ask for concerning the state of our democracy. If people feel helpless, what’s the point of pretending?

DJ: In a concrete sense, what would you hope that readers of this interview would do?

GG: This may surprise you, but if I could ask only one thing, it would be that readers demand that producers cast more women, and more women of color. If we can achieve that, the world will begin to change. We will see a more accurate representation of humanity, and we will see a greater diversity of roles. Stories will change. They will not be only about power plays. That simple act–changing our stories–will change future socialization.

DJ: How did you get started studying this?

GG: After the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the National Institute of Health set up the so-called Eisenhower Commission to study violence. They wanted to scapegoat television, and so we received a grant to study it. I said, “We’ll study violence, but in a broad context. We’ll study the world violence represents, and the role television plays in it.” They said, “Okay, you study that for yourself. We just want to know the violence count.” So we gave them their count, but more importantly began the broad study of the cultural environment, the annual monitoring of dramatic prime time television. We also began studying Saturday morning cartoons, which are even more violent. In prime time the rate for incidents of violence is five per hour, while in cartoons it is between twenty and twenty-five per hour. It is sugarcoated with humor, to be sure, but that makes the pill–the scenario of violence–easier to swallow, to integrate at an even earlier age.

Anyway, we were given this grant, and I discovered that no one else was studying this. That in itself is another indictment of the corruptness of our system. Something as fundamental as a study of the stories that shape our lives should be taken up by the Library of Congress or some other major national institution. That can never happen, because Congress would have to appropriate money for it, but will not so long as it is dependent on the media. Because no one else was doing it, I got together with a few like-minded people, and we formed an educational nonprofit organization.

DJ: I would like to finish by asking you again about something you’ve written: “The facts of violence are both celebrated and concealed in the cult of violence that surrounds us. There has never been a culture as filled with images of violence as ours is now. We are awash in a tide of violent representations. There is no escape from the massive invasion of colorful mayhem into the houses and cultural lives of ever-larger areas of the world.” When and how do you think this will all end?

GG: The only thing you can know about the future is that it is unpredictable. Therefore it depends on us. The fact that the future is unpredictable means to me that we are a part of that future because of what we can do. And we have to know that nothing is ever wasted. We may not succeed tomorrow, and we may not succeed in a lifetime, but the time must come when the disfunction in the culture becomes intolerable enough to a sufficient number of people to take political expression, and therefore to democratize cultural production and conception. The time must come when we find our way to a more humane and healthy culture.

The turnaround is not ridding our stories of violence. The turnaround is diversity. The turnaround comes through the implementation of a relatively democratic and diversified playing field in the area of cultural production. Other countries have gone much further in that direction than we have, and we cannot call ourselves a democracy until we try to do that as well.

Originally published in the August 1998 issue of The Sun
Republished in the November 1998 issue of Sentient Time

Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen
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